Spoiling Children: A Look at Seven Common Myths
Myth #1: You will spoil your baby if you handle her too much. You should let her cry sometimes.
Reality: You cannot spoil a baby. Babies need to be touched, squeezed, coddled, and held. Babies cry because they are hungry, sick, wet, messy, or desire attention. Pick up your baby and hold her. Do it as often as you like.
Myth #2: Kids should not grow up believing they can have anything they want.
Reality: It is desirable and an example of effective parenting to teach children they can have anything they want. They may have to work for it, though. And they may not get it at this moment.
When you’re shopping and your child asks, “Can I have one of those?” respond with, “Sure, how are you going to pay for it?” or “What are you willing to do to get it?” Ask, “How much money do you have?” or “Do you have a plan for getting it?”
Our job as parents is to help our children learn they can have whatever they want if they’re willing to work for it. During the process of figuring out how to get whatever it is they want, they may learn about problem solving, planning, setting priorities, and goal achievement. They may even come to see themselves as being able to create what they want in their own lives. That’s about as far from being spoiled as you can get. We call this phenomenon self-responsibility.
Myth #3: Spoiled children exist.
Reality: There is no such thing as a spoiled child. “Spoiled” is an inference, a judgment that people make after noticing behaviors.
Are there children who act as if they are entitled? Yes. Are there children who whine until the parents cave in? Yes. Are there children who pout if they don’t get their way? Yes. Are there children who seem unappreciative of small gifts? Yes. Does that make them spoiled? NO. It makes them children who have learned or are trying out new behaviors in an attempt to get what they want.
Children who exhibit these behaviors are not spoiled. They are children who are choosing inappropriate behaviors, behaviors that need to be redirected, behaviors that need to be replaced with other choices. These are children who need to be taught more effective ways of interacting, of asking for what they want, of expressing their feelings.
Myth #4: “Spoiled” is a good descriptor of some children.
Reality: “Spoiled” is never an accurate descriptor of children. “Spoiled” does not describe a behavior, it judges it.
Do not label children as spoiled. Not aloud, nor in your head. When you label children as spoiled, you tend to believe they are spoiled. When you believe they are spoiled, you are more likely to notice anything they do that could be interpreted as spoiled. When you see things that can be interpreted as spoiled, you prove your belief to yourself that the child is indeed spoiled. Your belief then becomes entrenched, and you eventually communicate your belief to your child and she begins to see herself as spoiled.
Myth #5: It’s important to tell children when they are acting spoiled and to call them on it.
Reality: Just as labeling children spoiled is never a good parenting move, neither is telling them they are acting spoiled. When you call a child spoiled, what he is likely to hear is “spoiled rotten.” Do you want your child thinking of himself as spoiled rotten?
When you notice yourself thinking a child is spoiled, ask yourself, “What is the behavior he or she is engaging in that I’m judging as spoiled?” Then communicate a description of that behavior along with any other helpful information you need to share. “Jenny, I see you sitting with your head down and a frown on your face. Would you like to tell me about that?” “Chico, that sounds like whining. Whining doesn’t work with me. Your best hope of getting what you want is to tell me in a normal voice and explain what you’re willing to do to help get it.” “Roland, I noticed you paid little attention to Grandma’s gift and offered no words of appreciation. Is there some way you could honor her giving even if you didn’t like the gift?”
Myth #6: Children who have an abundance of material things are likely to be spoiled.
Reality: Not true.
A friend of ours recently bought a horse for his two young boys. A close friend of his, hearing of the purchase, said, “There you go again, spoiling your children.”
Is it spoiling the children if they contribute to the purchase price, clean stalls, and play a role in feeding and grooming the horse? Is it spoiling them if they learn about safety around large animals, bond with another of God’s creatures, and learn the self-discipline it takes to become an accomplished rider? Is it spoiling them if they connect with their father working side by side in the barn, sweating, laughing, and learning about each other?
Whether a child has a ten-speed bicycle, a horse, or a convertible is not an indication of whether or not she’s spoiled. Look instead at how she got it, how she’s using it, and her attitude toward it. That will give you more information about whether she’s spoiled than the amount of material things she has.
Myth # 7: Spoiled children need to change.
Reality: No, parents need to change. Parents need to change their attitudes about “spoiled” children and see instead a child who is attempting to satisfy his or her needs with an ineffective behavior. Parents need to change their own behaviors and be willing to take the time to teach new behaviors to their children. They need to be willing to confront, deal with conflict, and take the time to engage in solution seeking.